Music: Sir Arthur Sullivan
Libretto: WS Gilbert
First performance: Opera Comique, London 25 May 1878
First performance of the OdL production: Corn Exchange Newbury, July 6 2001

The cast of the first performance was:

Little Buttercup Gay Soper
Bill Bobstay, the Boatswain Martin George
Dick Deadeye, Able Seaman Graham Hoadly
Ralph Rackstraw, Able Seaman Joseph Shovelton
Captain Corcoran, Captain of HMS Pinafore Trevor Connor
Josephine, Captain Corcoran’s daughter Fiona Dunn
Hebe, Sir Joseph’s first cousin Paula Seal
Sir Joseph's sister Gay Soper
Sir Joseph's aunt Graham Hoadly
Sir Joseph Porter David Timson
Director Jeff Clarke
Designer Graham Wynne
Choreographer Jenny Arnold
Lighting Designer Guy Dickens


A Dickensian Ring

Anyone who saw Opera della Luna’s The Mikado, and The Merry Widow, may assume incorrectly that it is our policy to set such pieces in a modern context. Our decision to set HMS Pinafore in a period slightly earlier than its first performance arises from a feeling I have always held that it is a rather different piece from the partnership’s later successes.
HMS Pinafore We have chosen Dickens as a point of reference simply because there seem to be so many resonances. The characters’ names clearly have a Dickensian ring. One of the Sketches by Boz tells of a snobbish resident of Clapham by the name of Mrs Joseph Porter. Another describes a marine-store dealer and lists the contents of the store: handkerchiefs, ribbons, a small tray containing silver watches, tobacco boxes etc. Josephine’s descriptions of differing social domestic scenes in the celebrated ‘pudding basin’ aria are virtually sketches by Boz themselves.


In the later operas Gilbert successfully lampooned many varied English institutions, but nowhere did he focus so clearly on class prejudice in society as in HMS Pinafore. And, like Dickens, the greatest fascination is with the middle class, who can so quickly be elevated to elegance and luxury on the one hand, and so easily reduced to penury and misery on the other. Gilbert, of course, was still cutting his teeth on what was to be a new and exciting genre.


The Mikado, despite its ‘Japanese’ setting, can be, and has been, set in a limitless range of contexts. In the same way that one cannot conceive of Oliver Twist or Nicholas Nickleby being other than tales of a specific time and location, so it seems to me that HMS Pinafore belongs more than any other G&S opera to its time and is rooted in its author’s preoccupation – like Dickens’s – with social injustice.

HMS PinaforeThis production has had an unusual evolution. Our shortened version of HMS Pinafore was first commissioned by the Concordia Theatre Company for performance aboard the QE2 in 1987. It was originally exactly 60 minutes long. The production was then revived for the Covent Garden Festival in 2000, and again in 2001, when we put back 15 minutes of the original, but still performed the show without an interval. In preparing now to present the show as a full evening’s entertainment, with interval, we have decided, rather than return to the original 1879 version and put back all the cuts, to preserve our streamlined version as its core and to add a new interpolated opening and closing sequence. Whilst this will no doubt offend the purists, we believe it enables the tale to be told in our own distinctive energetic style – and of course allows for judicious re-arrangement of the chorus material.


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“What makes this production work so well is its concise, authentic insistence on the underlying sting in the parody.”

OPERA magazine


“An evening to remember: full invention and fun.“

Kentish Gazette


“The most dedicated purist could hardly fail to find this a real treat. I suspect that from their seat in the Gods G&S are fiercely applauding Opera della Luna’s version of this favourite operetta.”

Ipswich Chonicle”




This small scale version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s opera was first performed on the QE2 in 1997. As part of the Covent Garden Festival it came to the Embankment, where President (built in 1908) is moored. The large saloon makes a god performance space, the audience was seated on three sides, with the singers on a narrow stage, the orchestra, directed by Jeff Clarke on keyboard, seated at the back. Nigel Howard’s painted scenery, showing various nautical scenes, was pinned to the walls.
The success of any G&S performance lies not just in the singing and playing, but in the sincerity with which the actors tell the story. Carl Sanderson was a convincing Captain Corcoran, and Rebecca Knight a charming, clear-toned Josephine. She also made a brief appearance at the beginning of the evening as one of the sailors. Graham Hoadly doubled as Dick Deadeye and Sir Joseph’s aunt, quite a feat. As a ruler of the Queen’s Navy, David Timson had the most authentic Gilbertian delivery. Julia Goss was a Buttercup in the tradition of Bertha Lewis.
What makes this production work so well is its concise, authentic insistence on the underlying sting in the parody. Jeff Clarke in his programme note calls Pinafore the most Dickensian of the G&S pieces. “It seems to me that HMS Pinafore belongs more than any other G&S opera to its time and is rooted in its author’s preoccupation – like Dickens’s – with social injustice.“

OPERA magazine


All aboard for this treat of a voyage.
The most dedicated purist could hardly fail to find this a real treat. I suspect that from their seat in the Gods G&S are applauding fiercely Opera della Luna’s slightly condensed version of this favourite among their operettas.
It is beautifully sung but played for every laugh it can raise, full of magical silly melodrama and carefully crafted caricature. They are backed by the Massed Band of the Pinafore – five super musicians who are part of the crew stationed in the fo’c’sle and who spring smartly to attention when Sir Joseph Porter KCB steps aboard.
Sir Joseph, ruler of the Queen’s navee, has never actually been to sea, feels distinctly queasy when the ship rocks in port and has the hots for the captain’s daughter, Josephine. She, however, has fallen for Ralph Rackstraw, a common sailor but hardly an ordinary seaman, bearing in mind his colourful chat-up line.
Adding to the fun is a spot of cross-dressing with girls as sailors and a great switch from Graham Hoadly who is the limping Dick Deadeye and Sir Joseph’s stout aunt with a roving eye. Louise Crane (Little Buttercup), Martin George (Bill Bobstay), Joseph Shovelton (Ralph), Ian Belsey (Captain), Sarah Ryan (Josephine), Kirsty Hoiles (Hebe) and David Timson as the First Lord are all in fine clear voice.

DH (at New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich)


Fun on the High Seas
A full house of Gilbert and Sullivan devotees produced an evening to remember.
From start to finish this pacy production was full of invention, fun and good acting and singing.
The Gulbenkian’s thrust stage was ingeniously dressed by the cast to suggest a sailing ship and costumes were thankfully in a traditional style.
All the famous set pieces were robustly stage and appreciably received and importantly, everyone spoke and sang clearly so those unique words could be heard.
To say that the cast worked hard would be an understatement; this was effective ensemble playing.
Director Jeff Clarke was a tower of strength at the on-stage piano assisted capably by players on violin wind and percussion.
Although I was conscious of some excessive pruning and I should have welcomed at least another quarter of an hour, this production nevertheless was a delight largely, of course, due to the singer/actors.
David Timson and Ian Belsey (Admiral and Captain) exactly captured the essence of their roles; Joseph Shovelton and Louise Crane (Ralph and Buttercup) were also admirable and in good voice and Graham Hoadly and Martin George (Deadeye and Bosun) were agreeably juicy and eccentric characters, the former also appearing as Sir Joseph’s aunt.
There was also good work from Kirsty Hoiles and Sarah Ryan as Cousin Hebe and Josephine. A word of appreciation for choreographer Jenny Arnold who contributed much to the success of this production.

DONALD HOLLINS Kentish Gazette (after performance at the Gulbenkian Theatre Canterbury).


HMS Pinafore Review


HMS Pinafore
Artistic Director
Company Members

The current cast of HMS Pinafore:

Little Buttercup:

Bill Bobstay:

Dick Deadeye:

Ralph Rackstraw:

Captain Corcoran:



Sir Joseph's sister:

Sir Joseph's aunt:

Sir Joseph Porter: